I have been thinking about truth a lot lately. Does it matter? Have we finally reached a consensus on Nietzsche’s claim that “there are no facts only interpretations”? Or is that consensus breaking down?
Today, we simply accept that leaders lie; not just occasionally but habitually. Trump did. Johnson does. Putin got there way before either of them. And yet, strangely, part of Johnson’s appeal has always been said to be his “authenticity”. He is a real person. His history of lying did not bother many people, nor his history of betraying everyone he has worked for or every woman he has been involved with. The electorate could not be expected to know the truth about Borisconi’s career.
I started calling him that because he always was — pre-Trump — the only politician with a similarly acute understanding of the incestuous relationship between politicians and the media. Surely he could be king of both? Or so he thought. He could control what he understood to be the most important thing about power, which was not “truth” but “the narrative”. His narrative was “fun”. For Bunga Bunga parties just substitute batshit-crazy Jennifer Arcuri and a Christmas quiz.
But things fall apart. Some lies matter more than others. This must have been a shock to Borisconi because the visual evidence of his lies — the video, the photo — cuts through. No amount of wordplay or random classical references can make people unsee what they have seen. Mirabile dictu!
Just as the CCTV footage of Matt Hancock snogging his bit on the side did for him, so these photos did for Downing Street. Those who worked for Borisconi were sent out to lie for him, and then he lied about them too. This we know for certain. It is not an idea, an opinion, or an interpretation. It is a fact.
But it’s not necessarily the end for him. He may stagger on until the next wave of the virus has passed. Who, quite frankly, would want to take over right now? He may chuck it in, not because he suddenly acquires a sense of morality or even shame, but because he is skint and there is money to be made in them there hills of after-dinner buffoonery.
I’m so tired of writing about the mendacity and entitlement of the man, though. I would far rather talk about another man who has also made me think about the nature of reality this week (and whom I unashamedly adore): Keanu Reeves.
Normally, press junkets for a new film are nothing more than dull promotion. But in their interviews for The Matrix Resurrections, Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss answered questions about the nature of reality in interesting ways. The Matrix, after all, is an entire world of distraction — and an influential one at that. Who could have known in 1999 how it would infiltrate our culture?
Take “redpilling”, a term which has come to be used by many men’s rights activists, largely thanks to a Reddit thread in which men discuss waking up to the reality that women oppress men. Not all these guys are incels, but redpilling is nearly always talked about online by those on the anti-feminist Right.
For some, the notion of questioning reality that The Matrix so cleverly explored has morphed into a denial of reality. Sure, men are oppressed — but more so than women? Is that the radical breakthrough that the red pill offers? Apparently so.
Will facts and statistics change their minds? I know now that we are living in a profoundly anti-science moment. Anti-vaxxers do not believe in science. Many trans-activists do not accept basic biology. Grace Lavery talks of a liberated future in which transwomen like herself will be able to have abortions — and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
I have fought my entire life for women’s right to abortion. But since transwomen cannot get pregnant, I wonder how this is progressive, how this fantasy of womanhood is in any way radical, and not in some way deeply insulting to women’s actual experience of abortion? Can we really say physical reality has had its day?
Reeves talked in an interview about having dinner with a director who had his three teenage children with him. They had not seen The Matrix, so he explained that it was about a guy in a virtual world who was trying to get back to reality. The young girl asked: “Why? Who cares if it’s real?” Keanu said: “You don’t care if it’s real?” She said: “No”. When the interviewer asked Keanu how it made him feel, he paused and said: “Awesome.”
Are we the 17-year-old girl at dinner with Keanu Reeves who no longer cares what is real? I’m not convinced. Reality TV, itself scripted and managed, may be coming to the end of its cruel reign. Yet it was Ant and Dec on I’m A Celebrity, gunning for our Prime Minister, who alerted the Westminster bubble to the idea that the non-stop pizza, quiz, cheese and wine gatherings during lockdown was ‘cutting through’. A basic unfairness was exposed; a truth about rules not applying to those who govern us.
It was almost as if reality mattered, that endless lying was no longer acceptable. There is always something that punctures the Matrix. It’s there in The Communist Manifesto: “Man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”
Sure, it’s more comfortable to be fooled. But in the end, we have to do the work. We can argue forever about subjective and objective truth but hold the hand of a new baby or the hand of a person who is about to die and tell me that everything is virtual and nothing matters.
You can’t can you? The glitch in the Matrix is where we find ourselves. It’s the only place to be.